“He” and “I” in Okorafor’s Media Representation

The boy was there. He had no mobile phone. He had never touched a computer. The cramped room he shared with seven other homeless boys and no television. He had no access to any type of screen, large or small. He hadn’t even been immunized against polio. But he was there. (123)

I was there. To be specific, I was in the Testament Cyber Cafe, not far from Bar Beach… Yet there I was in the cyber cafe totally unconcerned, and up to no good. Okay, so I was good at it. I was good at being up to no good. I was good at 419. Nigerian Internet fraud. (194)

I chose to compare these two excerpts because what Okorafor is presenting us with here is an interesting balance between identity, technology, and media. Okorafor introduces the mute boy in the aforementioned scene through the third person, because seemingly he cannot articulate what is going on in his own life. The use of the third person seems conspicuous because we know that being mute does not affect one’s thought processes; but it seems that Okorafor attributing the lack of identity for this individual to his lack of participation in the media of the novel – at least in the way that he does not participate in the technological part of it. Obviously this little boy plays an instrumental part in the novel, and in terms of what the media is representing, he experiences it first hand, whereas most only experience the actions of the book through some type of media representation (YouTube, news columns, etc.). This seems to point at the fact that many people believe that media – particularly social media – is the best way to represent and be your “true self.” Now, I wouldn’t say that Okorafor believes this, since when we look at the other excerpt with “Legba” we can understand his identity through technology and through different types of media to be false – as he is an expert at fraud. Why then should he get an entire chapter to himself in which he is the  main focalizer and voice?


Personal note:

Thinking through with Neuromancer and with the cyber cafes in Lagoon, have you ever walked through a casino – like the Bethlehem Sands – and just seen the people mindlessly pulling the levers, oblivious to the world around them? This reminded me of the cyber cafe where everyone just ignored what was going on until if finally crashed in on them.

Also, in terms of technology, many science fiction stories deal with the idea of connecting ourselves to technology, and beyond the obvious connection we have to phones and the internet, I was thinking about our connection to cars. As a commuting student who is put in many tight situations on the major highways coming to school everyday, I would physically get sick if someone crashed into my car – where did this empathy for physical objects come from? Maybe Phillip Dick can help me figure that one out.

The future of science fiction is already upon us!

Paranoid Empathy

The feelings of distrust and paranoia central to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is built into Rick Deckard’s profession as a bounty-hunter. His job requires that he intuit whether apparent humans are actually androids, which, even though he claims that “A Mercerite sensed evil [in andys] without understanding it,” must be carefully discerned through the use of technology like Voigt-Kampff scale (32). This feature has the interesting and extrapolating effect of casting empathy as something mechanical and legible through technology, as displayed when Rick uses the scale to test Rachael Rosen. Rick describes the test: “This… measures capillary dilation in the facial area. We know this to be a primary autonomic response, the so-called ‘shame’ or ‘blushing’ reaction to a morally shocking stimulus. It can’t be controlled voluntarily, as can skin conductivity, respiration, and cardiac rate” (46). While this description is meant to show the utility of such a machine in detecting “The Killers” or the androids, the mechanisms of the Voigt-Kampff scale reveal a perverse vision of “empathy” in the novel as something invasive and frightening, driven by the paranoia pervading this decaying society left behind on earth. A reader may become unsettled by this redefinition of empathy as a locating a set of standard biological and involuntary reactions that each and every person is meant to have, lest they be shunned or “retired” for being an android.

The problem of the Penfield

“‘My schedule for today lists a six-hour self-accusatory depression,’ Iran said.

‘What? Why did you schedule that?’ It defeated the whole purpose of the mood organ. ‘I didn’t even know you could set it for that,’ [Deckard] said gloomily” (Dick 5)

Although there is plenty more to be uncertain about, Dick sets the scene of the novel with a piece of technology which provokes extremely mixed responses from Deckard and Iran. For Deckard, the Penfield mood organ is a fantastic piece of equipment which allows him to escape the ‘negative’ human emotions and thus lead a more concentrated, efficient, and productive life. For Iran, the mood organ is an interruption of normal, necessarily negative human behavior; since she cannot function outside of the mood organ (thanks in part to her controlling husband) she must manufacture the feelings she believes she would feel without the presence of the Penfield. Interestingly, while the characters certainly have more information about the mood organ and its functions than the reader, this information is far from complete. Deckard does not realize that the mood organ has a range of emotions beyond those he associates as positive; the revelation of this information depresses him. Why is this? Deckard’s relationship with technology is difficult to parse. His job involves ruthless pursuit and destruction of technological ‘life’ forms, but he is dependent on a machine to set the structure of his life and does not dig into the complex workings of the machine. He has a certain faith in the positive effects of certain technology which Iran lacks or feels suspicious towards. There is also a sense of the uncertain progress of technology. The reader must wonder when exactly the Penfield came into being; is this a recent technology, a new model of an older technology, or something that is deeply incorporated into the world? Can we presume that all characters we encounter use a similar system or is Deckard somewhat unique? And the 3 code, a desire to dial something is deeply problematic. It is clear that this world has an inextricable link to technology as a driving force, but the exact limits and reasons are unclear and unavailable. A really fantastic introduction to a delightful and intriguing story.

Slow and Steady Always Wins the Race

“…during the Thaw no form of transport is reliable; so much freight traffic goes with a rush, come summer…It all moves along, however crowded, quite steadily at the rate of 25 miles per hour (Terran). Gethenians could make their vehicles go faster, but they do not. If asked why not, they answer ‘Why?’ Like asking Terrans why all our vehicles must go so fast; we answer ‘Why not?’ No disputing tastes. Terrans tend to feel they’ve got to get ahead, make progress. The people of Winter, who always live in the Year One, feel that progress is less important than presence” (Le Guin 50).

In the fantastic article Le Guin pens, she points out this implied association of the Gethenians’ super slow development of technology with this idea of the “female principle”. The “female principle”, which is synonymous with “the valuing of patience, ripeness, practicality, livableness” (Le Guin 166), means that the Gethenians are showing feminine characteristics by taking their technological advancement slow. They want to practically use the technology they have so far and wait for it to ripen before moving on to something new and possibly better. It is a great juxtaposition then to have Ai Genly comment on this Gethenian reality. We, as citizens of the current society, identify with Ai Genly because he comes from a culture very similar (if not the same) to ours. Genly does not really understand why the Gethenians do not just keep developing better technology at a faster pace. He accepts it but he is not convinced. Intrinsically, we agree with Genly. We ask ourselves, “why don’t they just develop faster?”, but we are a society that is always in a hurry and is caught up in a race for progress. Every year two new Iphone models come out even though people still have not completely discovered the features of the models that came out two years ago. Why do we not take the time to appreciate and properly use our technology before we throw it away for the newer and possibly (or possibly not) better model? This “pushing forward to the limit” (Le Guin 165) is a masculine quality that Terra seems to also have. Since the Gethenians are not plagued by this masculine principle but adhere to the feminine principle, they see the value in holding on to their technology until it is exhausted, which is exactly what they do.